“Just a classic neighborhood bar with classic cocktails made with quality spirits,” Nick Wiseman says. “And we're keeping it $10 or less for everything. That's the vibe and the ethos we want.”
The bar, which opens Friday at 5 p.m., takes its name from Hill Prince, a racehorse who, in 1950, won the Preakness and finished runner-up in the Kentucky Derby. There's a huge portrait of a thoroughbred on the wall — it's not actually Hill Prince — and a bust of a horse over a fireplace in the back. That's as far as the horsing around goes. (The name, Wiseman says, was inspired by the many stables in the neighborhood, dating back to the 19th century. Also, they really liked the way it sounded.)
Hill Prince is an attractive, classy-looking two-room bar. The front room is all about showing off the bones of the building: Wiseman says they stripped “a solid eight inches of drywall” to expose the weathered brick walls and wooden support beams, refurbished the solid pine floors and uncovered two working fireplaces. A custom-built bar is lined with round, leather-topped bar stools.
The rear area, reachable by a hallway with a long drink rail, resembles the dining room of a posh club, with a large central table, a leather sofa and club chairs. The vibe, Wiseman hopes, will be laid back and loungey, though they might remove the table on weekends.
Even further back is a courtyard strung with lights and a 1,500-square-foot carriage house that'll open with its own bar and event space in early summer.
The cocktail menu, crafted by DGS's Tony Lawson and bartender Briana Savage, formerly of Bookmaker's in Baltimore, is heavy on the classics, including a Daiquiri, a Sazerac and an Aviation, all of which cost $9 or $10. The difference, Lawson says, is that they'll have slight variations: The Americano, for example, uses Cappelletti instead of the original Campari.
“I'm not really into bitter stuff,” Lawson explains. “Cappelletti has a sweetness with just enough bitterness. It's more of a personal preference.” The Brown Derby, too, is sweeter than usual, thanks to a lavender honey syrup that Lawson uses “to balance out the sharpness of the grapefruit.”
Beer drinkers can choose from four draft beers ($5-$7), which include local representation from 3 Stars, Evolution and the Raven, and another dozen in bottles and cans. The goal, Lawson says, is for half of the selections to come from D.C., Maryland and Virginia. Wine offerings include red, white and sparkling options for $8 to $10.
Hill Prince doesn't have a kitchen, so it features foods that don't require cooking, such as grass-fed beef jerky from Red Apron Butchers and pickled okra from Gordy's Pickle Jar. Most intriguingly, Erik Bruner-Yang of the neighboring Maketto has developed “a classic soft braided pretzel with spicy ranch onion powder,” Wiseman says, which can be dipped in whole mustard. A limited number of pretzels will be made every day, and when they're gone, they're gone.
Hill Prince, 1337 H St. NE. Opens Tuesday through Thursday at 5 p.m. and Friday through Sunday at 4 p.m.